Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2015

uManitoba sidesteps transparency

By Matthew Brett
Stop the Cuts solidarity rally at the University of Manitoba Jan. 27 garners support from hundreds of students, faculty members & labour. The U of M plans to cut its budget by 8% over the next two years.
Stop the Cuts solidarity rally at the University of Manitoba Jan. 27 garners support from hundreds of students, faculty members & labour. The U of M plans to cut its budget by 8% over the next two years.
The University of Manitoba is implementing significant budget cuts over the next two years, yet university president David Barnard has not provided any compel­ling evidence as to why.

Transparency ought to be the pillar of any public institution. On this front, Barnard and his administration have failed.

The university administration is imposing four per cent cuts this coming fiscal year and proposing an additional four per cent in 2016–2017. People fear losing their jobs, services may be cut back and students face larger class sizes and far fewer academic options. We have absolutely no idea where these cuts will take place.

Barnard says the university is strapped for cash, yet the administration has generated operating surpluses of $40 million or more each year since 2008, except for 2010. A non-profit entity, the university’s “return on sales” in 2013 tripled Sobeys, overwhelmingly outpaced Hudson’s Bay and fell just shy of Canadian Tire. The case for cuts rings hollow.

The administration conducted a “strategic resource allocation” review in October, requesting each faculty inform the admin­istra­tion of where it can achieve four per cent cuts — requesting they not nibble but chew at their own hand. The results of these reviews were not disclosed to the campus community.

Substantial cuts, forced mergers, increased class sizes and workloads of a stressed and bare-bones workforce have already taken place recently. The upcoming wave of cuts is more significant, particularly for departments that have zero room to manoeuvre. Internal sources say departmental planning has ground to a halt in anticipation of the unknown.

The administration stopped publicly disclosing the breakdown of multimillion dollar transfers from the operating fund to their capital fund in 2009, preventing the community from having an accurate picture of where revenues are being allocated.

The blame for this current mess must not solely be placed on the university administration. The NDP government has not upheld its promise of a five per cent operating-grant hike for university education.

The government ought to uphold that pledge, but no NDP leadership candidate has revived that failed five per cent commitment. The party ought to deliver on its promises and has a chance to do so now.

Back on campus, Barnard is playing hardball with the student population and workforce, sticking firmly to the four per cent target despite rapidly growing opposition.

Heavily indebted students with full- and part-time jobs and heavy course loads are taking time to protest these cuts because they care deeply about their programs and the spirit of public education. These students are a daily inspiration.

And so, we wait. People wait to see if they will lose their jobs. Students wait to see if they will lose courses they love and need. Brenda Austin-Smith, who sits on the faculty association’s executive council, warns of a Hunger Games mentality where departments are forced to compete for resources.

The Latin origins of the word ‘university’ stem from ideas of a whole, an entirety, a sense of universality. This democratic spirit is not being upheld. Instead, we have a tight inner circle of administrators with salaries that bear no semblance to the rest of the community deciding matters for themselves.

This is how Wall Street banks operate, not public institutions, which today at least have minimal democratic checks and balances that ought to be preserved and expanded.

Barnard and the administration deem it wise to withhold basic financial information and plans from the public and campus community while they meddle with the future of post-secondary education.

But the public, alumni, donors and campus community have a right to demand president Barnard open his books and be fully transparent about planned spending priorities. Alternative budgets and visions of post-secondary education can be developed together. Manitoba’s universities are public institutions, and we all have a stake in their future.

Matthew Brett is an organizer with the Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba working alongside students, faculty and staff on the Stop the Cuts campaign:

This article appeared in the Feb. 2, 2015 print edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. Republished with permission.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily CAUT.

CAUT welcomes articles between 800 and 1,500 words on contemporary issues directly related to post-secondary education. Articles should not deal with personal grievance cases nor with purely local issues. They should not be libellous or defamatory, abusive of individuals or groups, and should not make unsubstantiated allegations. They should be objective and on a political rather than a personal subject. A commentary is an opinion and not a “life story.” First person is not normally used. Articles may be in English or French, but will not be translated. Publication is at the sole discretion of CAUT. Commentary authors will be contacted only if their articles are accepted for publication. Commentary submissions should be sent to Liza Duhaime.